Rep. Anne Donahue: We look back on eugenics, slavery in horror — maybe someday abortion, too

This commentary is by state Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, vice chair of the House Committee on Health Care.

Sept. 28 is the 100th anniversary of the conference in New York that solidified the theory and social policies of eugenics: the concept that genetics control the quality of future generations and therefore sterilization (or later, killing) of society’s “degenerates” or less socially valued lives could improve the human stock.

The anniversary has been marked with a program of events around the world that reflect on the history of white supremacy that led to eugenics and continue to infect us today.

Thus, it is fitting that this is the year Vermont’s Legislature passed its apology to Vermonters who were injured by eugenics.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was a leader in the eugenics movement.

The policies targeted mostly the poor and those with mental or physical disabilities, as well as those documented as French Canadian, French-Indian, or of other mixed ethnic or racial composition. In other states, targeting was focused on Black women on the claimed basis of reducing poverty and burdens on public support.

Our nation continues to be torn apart by two social traumas that are in confluence in this same year: systemic racism and abortion.

Documents from the Anti-Eugenics Congress program series reflect upon the roots of eugenics as being within longstanding European racialized classification systems, colonial imperialism, dispossession of indigenous peoples, policies of segregation, and immigration exclusion.

This is our ugly history of defining the fit and the unfit — those lives that are worthy versus not as worthy.

We fail to recognize that it is those same beliefs that influence arguments in support of racism, ableism, sexism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, homophobia — and abortion.

Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was a leader in the eugenics movement.

Planned Parenthood removed her name from its New York affiliate building last year, acknowledging that it was “both a necessary and overdue step to reckon with our legacy and acknowledge Planned Parenthood’s contributions to historical reproductive harm within communities of color.” In other words, the planning of parenthood was part of the agenda to curtail the growth of people identified as of lesser value.

The implicit desire to encourage curtailment of growth in disproportionately Black communities through contraception and access to abortion — the citing of the cycle of poverty often being a pseudo-reference to race — was most blatant in those same communities of color disproportionately affected by eugenic sterilization in the South.

Part of the abortion debate today focuses on the fact that women can become trapped by an unwanted pregnancy, and men cannot. Although the fact that only some people have uteruses and can give birth is based neither on governmental nor social policy, it is the basis for asserting discrimination endorsed by government if abortion access is curtailed.

That ignores any bodily integrity of the new life developing as an integral part of, yet genetically distinct from, that woman’s body.

It grieves me when the pro-life movement acts as though only that yet-to-be-born child has life and equity to consider, for its mother is experiencing a radical imposition on her body that was not an intentional choice. Few women want to become pregnant and then to abort a healthy child who poses them no grievous health threat.

But it also grieves me when pro-choice advocates act as though abortion is solely about women’s health care, without regard to any intrinsic human value of that life being sustained solely through a human womb. Roe v. Wade explicitly stated that a privacy right was not absolute when a mother carried a developing child.

The new Texas law, in targeting anyone who tries to exercise compassion toward a woman in that situation and thus ignoring the agony of a woman struggling with something outside of her own control within her body, is utterly the wrong direction.

But Vermont’s new law that blocks interference with any abortion at any time is also utterly wrong, because it denies the validity of society having any interest in the value of a developing independent life, since it is considered not yet fully human.

Not fully human. Where have we heard that before in our history, as a reason to dismiss the centrality of equity among human lives?

We look back on eugenics in horror. We look back at slavery in horror.

Neither eugenics leaders nor slaveholders were violating the social standards of their time. They were sanctioned by constitutional interpretation. But history is not kind to that rationalization.

The day may come when we express our apology for the disregard of the human lives that are in utero in the same way we did this year for those lives we devalued 70 and 80 years ago in Vermont’s eugenics policies.

We should not have the hubris to be so certain that our current views on which rights have supremacy are not simple rationalizations.

The current effort trying to lock them into our constitution with a demand that any future social interest in those nascent lives bear the burden of proof of their fitness would be the worst of such hubris.

Image courtesy of Public domain

5 thoughts on “Rep. Anne Donahue: We look back on eugenics, slavery in horror — maybe someday abortion, too

  1. I was thinking this exact same thing this morning. SCOTUS has supported both slavery and eugenics in its past. One day, we’ll turn a corner and finally be appalled at our actions once again.

  2. Kind of skirts the issue that Vermont has played and continues to play a central role in the US eugenics movement – a buried and dissociated identity that requires more than an ‘apology’ as it was no mistake at all but a well thought out and planned ideology enacted on Vermonters that is INTACT and RUNNING THE SHOW in Vermont NOW through ‘poison death jabs’ forced on the population at large, responsible for hospital admissions (whose policy is ‘dont’ ask, don’t tell’ as to whether they are vaccine injuries or not – tell me THAT is not a EUGENICS health policy).
    Until we OWN these dark parts of who we are and have been as Vermonters, we cannot change to become something better that values life over policies, and humanity over commerce, and generosity over privatization.
    We have become an inhumane state – by design.
    But until the mirror talks back while we happen to be present and listening, and tells us:
    Your history of eugenics is showing and repeating itself again –
    We will always be the wagged dogs we’ve become.
    Woof woof.
    We are what we accept.

  3. This article by Anne Donahue is laced with postmodern critical social justice theory. And this is coming from a supposed Republican? Rep. Donahue upholds the critical social justice theory of present-day “white supremacy” and “systematic racism”.

    Donahue writes: “The anniversary has been marked with a program of events around the world that reflect on the history of white supremacy that led to eugenics and continue to infect us today. … Our nation continues to be torn apart by two social traumas that are in confluence in this same year: systemic racism and abortion.”

    Both accusations of “white supremacy” and “systematic racism” in today’s 21st century America are fictions. They are social and cultural constructs of the Left. The goal of which is to drive a lie, a narrative through continued ‘storytelling’ that will deconstruct and delegitimize our nation’s very foundation. Vermont Republican’s like Donahue are either ignorant or complicit in this. I suspect she’s a little of both.

    Then Rep. Donahue practices postmodern thought. She defines pregnancy as a “radical imposition…that was not an intentional choice”. Outside of forceable rape, sexual intercourse is most certainly an intentional choice and since when did common language of a woman carrying a child in her womb, become a “radical imposition”?

    Rep. Donahue then further distorts language – a key feature of postmodernism – when, in describing the new Texas abortion law, Donahue writes of “the agony of a woman struggling with something outside of her own control within her body”. Again, outside of forceable rape getting pregnant is not outside a woman’s control and the implied “agony” of the ‘child’ is not at fault. The real “agony” is the responsibility and work required of taking care of the child. Innocent children are not ‘agonies’.

    With supposed right-of-center thought leaders like Republican Rep. Anne Donahue, I have little doubt Vermont’s Left is smiling.

  4. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood was Hillary Clintons hero. She was a RACIST ! As are all Commiecrat abortion supporters. Seventy -five percent of Planned Parenthood abortion clinics are in black neighborhoods.

    1. “Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives… If we are to make racial progress, this development of womanhood must precede motherhood in every individual woman.” — Margret Sanger “Woman and the New Race,” 1920

    2. “Apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”- from “My Way to Peace,” Jan. 17, 1932. Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress 130:198.

    3. “As an advocate of birth control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over fertility of the mentally and physically defective”.- from Eugenics Value of Birth Control Propaganda 1921

    4. “Again, however, we must stress the fact that in a national program for human conservation institutional and voluntary sterilization are not enough; they do not reach those elements at large in the population whose children are a menace to the national health and well-being. (“Human Conservation and Birth Control,” typed speech. March 3, 1938.)

    5. “Our immigration laws forbid the entrance into this country of paupers, insane, feeble-minded and diseased people from other lands. Why not extend the idea and discourage the bringing to birth these same types within our borders. Let us stop reproducing and perpetuation disease, insanity and ignorance. Stop these and other evils at their source by a national policy and education of birth control.”-from “Stop Perpetuating the Unfit by a National Policy of Limitations of Families.” Published in “The New York American” December 28, 1921.

    “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities”. – Ayn Rand

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